The 2020 Porsche 911 Speedster Is a GT3 You Can’t Take to the Track

The 2020 Porsche 911 Speedster Is a GT3 You Can’t Take to the Track

The newest Speedster channels Porsche royalty, but also serves as a crystal ba

Flacht, Germany is where Porsche develops its white-hot race cars, separate from the herds of 718s leaving the factory in Zuffenhausen, 40 minutes east. The western plant is also where Porsche develops its manic road cars, the GT machines that come painted in fruity colors with surfboard-sized spoilers. The ones that are happiest when licking blood from their teeth. Being bred alongside Le Mans-winning 911s has always gifted the company’s GT cars with a rare duality: thrilling on a back road and joyous on a track. Until now.

Enter Speedster, sixth of its name. This one’s a swan song for the 991-generation 911. It stamps a final mark on the chassis—built from 2012 to 2019—that brought supreme refinement, larger exterior dimensions, and near-universal turbocharging to Porsche’s flagship coupe. It’s also the first Speedster built on a Porsche GT chassis.

That creates some symmetry. ‘Speedster’ first appeared on the 356 in 1954. Those cars were special-ordered as drop-top club racers by American importer Max Hoffman. They wore the Speedster badge like jewelry, and the 356’s hunched rear was rendered anew in a single, graceful arc. The result was, arguably, the most beautiful Porsche ever built. We agree; the design belongs in the MoMA. Pretty as they were, those mid-1950s 356 Speedsters were built for weekend club racing—lightened, lightly-optioned, and used for purpose.

Then, several generations of 911 Speedsters arrived, less focused than before. Rather than refine the rear of the car, as on the 356, a Quasimodo girth sprouted above the 911’s decklid—two humps in body-matched paint to hide the fold-down roof. These Speedsters abandoned racing aspirations and didn’t stick the landing in aesthetics. They are rare, however, which makes them expensive and desirable (for some).

Visually, the newest Speedster returns to that old harmony. It bucks the lumpy rear for a spectacular engine cover that’s slick as snot. The clamshell cover is a vast swath of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic. It’s the largest and most complex component Porsche has ever manufactured for a road car, it says. There’s a swept windshield up front, shorter than a standard 911’s, that lends a sleek, pared-down look. We’re told that rakish glass and carbon cover added millions in development costs to the Speedster’s body in white. Money well spent. The two-prettiest Speedsters ever now bookend the family tree.

The new Speedster is essentially a topless GT3, riding on the latter car’s chassis with the same springs, brakes, and dampers (albeit with different valving). The largest difference between the two is the ride height, with the convertible sitting 5mm taller, or about half the width of a fingernail. The two even share the same 4.0-liter flat six, though the Speedster makes 10 more horsepower, now up to 510, thanks to revised injectors, individual throttle bodies, and a tweaked exhaust.

But that rakish drop-top body, draped upon the guts of the race-inspired GT3, creates a contradiction: this is Flacht’s first single-purpose road car—it’s not expressly intended for the track. Porsche claims the Speedster’s clamshell and windshield frame are robust enough to survive a rollover, something that crash regulations demand. But without a proper roof and roll bar, we can’t imagine tipping the Speedster into the high-speed esses at Road Atlanta. Neither can most sanctioning bodies, we imagine.

You can still enjoy the Speedster, of course. On public roads, you mostly just buzz along with the top down, breeze tumbling through the cabin, content to work on your sunburn. The engine hums a tenor’s note at 4,000 rpm, waiting. When the road clears, you hoof the clutch, downshift, then rev the nuts off that glorious 4.0-liter six until the tach hits its 9000-rpm redline. If you’re lucky, there’s room ahead to find the top of the next gear. If not, you lean on all that grip from the Dunlop Sport Maxx Race 2 rubber (245/35ZR-20 up front, and 305/30ZR-20 out back), pivot through a turn, and wind out the engine as long as you dare.

As in the GT3, it’s thrilling to work this six-speed gearbox and naturally aspirated 510-hp flat six. The pair are the best duo since pizza and beer. You find yourself blipping the throttle, reveling in the intake honk from those individual throttle bodies, then catching split-second downshifts for no good reason, prodding a drivetrain that’s so responsive, it feels inertia-free. You heel-and-toe at every opportunity, stepping down four gears instead of coasting to a stop. The Speedster—like the GT3—compels you to participate in its joy. If there’s a more engaging engine and transmission combo on a modern road car, we haven’t driven it.

The standard brakes, optional carbon-ceramic units from the GT3, work flawlessly here, too. They feel untaxed when diving into the switchback corners on the Italian isle of Sardinia. The island’s pavement looks pane-of-glass smooth over the Speedster’s sumptuous fenders, and feels as much through the steering wheel. The whole experience amounts to wafty, blissful six-tenths driving.

As lovely as that is, road driving is just foreplay for the Speedster. We found ourselves craving an open track where the Porsche could stretch its legs. You’re left to wonder, why not buy a GT3? There are plenty of components that elevate the Speedster. There’s the beauty of the thing, lightweight front fenders ripped from the 911 R, or that sexy double bubble clamshell, which hides a convertible roof. There’s a Speedster-only heritage package that mimics the “spear” graphics of 356 race cars. The package adds those painted spears to the front fenders, and vinyl decals to the hood and doors, so you have somewhere to put your race numbers (in a delicious bit of irony). The car costs $277,050, too, so at least you won’t see another one parked at the Rennsport corral. And if you’re the type of buyer who isn’t interested in track driving, well, this offers a different Porsche GT experience that’s maybe five percent softer than a GT3. And it feels special.

The counterpoint is that the Speedster feels special because the GT3 is special. As aesthetically-pleasing as the Speedster is, why buy a car developed in Flacht that’ll never see a racetrack?

But, maybe the Speedster serves a different purpose for Porsche.

The company widened production of this car. They’ll build 1948 Speedsters, each with a stamp of approval from Porsche’s Delta Force in Flacht. The last nostalgia-tinged GT3 variant, the 911 R, had just 991 examples. A cynic might guess Porsche’s probing the limits for what its customers are willing to pay, finding how little exclusivity they’ll buy and for how much.

We think they peeled the roof off a GT3 as a litmus test. Will Porsche buyers go for a product from the GT department that’s not explicitly built for track use? Probably. One Porsche spokesperson said the company expects demand for the car to far exceed supply, and guessed that most Speedsters would wedge into garages that already hold a track-ready GT car.

But if track use is no longer bedrock for cars from Flacht, and no longer a requirement for Porsche GT buyers, where does that path lead? Where does it end? Maybe it sets a new precedent for the Speedster moniker: take a Porsche GT product, chop its top, and make it gorgeous. Perhaps the namesake will expand to other models. Or maybe this Speedster provides Porsche other permissions. We could imagine a lightened, hardened Panamera for the road. Or maybe a rally-raid Macan with no rear seats and a roll cage? What about a Cayenne GT5?

That’s all conjecture. What we have now is a gorgeous car propped on a brilliant chassis. One with talents that outstrip even the feistiest of two-lanes. For us, a publication whose title sits flush with that old Flacht duality, well; we’d stick with the standard $143,600 GT3, toss that sack of money we saved in the frunk, and head balls-out to the nearest racetrack.